Foreword – So, we’re finally back in business after an extended period off, mainly due to the fact that much like Western democracy, we were recently hacked by the Russians and cream pied with Malware. My thanks to the Hawk and the rad artisanal cunts at Studiomochi for unfucking us and getting the Dirtiness back in the game, legends.
For those that like symmetry and balance, today’s post brings the opposing bookend to a tale from last year, which as you may recall was about my experience back at a DH Race for the first time since the 90’s. Yes, given I now reside in the big, fat, sweet, gooey MTB middle ground starting with ‘E’, I decided to bring my curiosity full circle and return to the fringes of the modern MTB world: I went to an XC race.
I say fringes, but the super weird irony here is that these two disciplines were once upon a time not only the mainstream in the MTB universe, but also the only options available for those wishing to commit harakiri in the heat of competition. In fact, there was even a time when most of us did one of them on a Saturday and, shock fucking horror, the other one on the Sunday!
To set the appropriate scene here, I can’t even fucking recall vaguely the last time I attended any form of XC race, mainly as my mind and body want to block it out. It was probably something in Singapore around 2011 or 2012 maybe? On a Cannondale Scalpel which not only had tiny wheels since declared dead, but also no pivots for absolute fucks sake… But worse than that, I didn’t even have an ENDURO-bro beard… Holy fuck, its a Total Recall moment and there’s definitely no Sharon Stone in gym gear here:
Like a Rudy Guliani media tour, there are so many fucked up things here it’s too hard to list them all before your eyeballs or brain explodes. But suffice to say, the above picture paints a story of a day that did not end well. I recall exploding in 34 degree heat riding on a course that no one was sad to see bulldozed eventually to make way for another HBD block.
So why the fuck then 6 years later would I feel the need to commit extreme MTB fashion sins once more and head back into the now niche world of XC racing? I felt like I had assembled a fully reasonable arsenal of excuses for leaving my eComfort zone:
- I wanted a good hard day ahead of the Crankworx ENDURO race
- I may have something later in the year to think about… Ssshhhhh…
- I always drive past some of the local hills with a morbid curiosity as to what its like to ride them, which given they’re on private land is an impossibility… Except for once a year…
And that once a year arrives in the form of the Triple Peaks race. As its cryptic name suggests, its a race, taking in 3 of the Hawkes Bay’s iconic peaks: Mount Erin, Mount Kahuranaki and the iconic, if not uptight, Te Mata Peak. With 50km’s and close to 2,000m of climbing in store, Triple Peaks pushes itself into the XC Marathon bracket as opposed to the eye watering XCO format, which in an odd way made it slightly more palatable, or as palatable as a slow drawn out death can be as opposed to a fast and furious frontal stabbing for 1.5 hours.
There was another slight motivation for partaking in MTB S&M, to see what this splendid creation was capable of in the searing heat of competition. As per usual, I have taken a machine which is not strictly designed for the task at hand and subjected it to a genre we’re both lukewarm at best about. The Tallboy 2 was a legit XC weapon, but the delicious 3 definitely moved itself more in the ‘trail’ direction… Whatever the fuck that means:
So with all this in mind, I loaded up and headed down to the Bay’s capital of white privilege and pretentiousness to test out if we have any future in Marathon XC racing, or if indeed I would find myself as a smoked salmon completely out of water whilst trying to swim the wrong way. Let’s step out of the ENDURO echo chamber for a moment to see what skinny people are up to these days.
Part 1 – When Switzerland turns on you
Not unlike standing in a DH shuttle queue, as a quintessential middle aged ENDURO racer, I had that definite out of place sinking feeling as we milled around on the start line. In an attempt to hide my partisanship, I even dressed in full Lycra, something I promised my ENDURO bros I would never do again… Real talk muthafuckas, I even wore a fucking road helmet and things called ‘XC shoes’. I could feel myself getting deleted from various chat groups as I stood around trying to suck my stomach in and do my best whippet impersonation.
Alas, I appeared to be a Bull amongst racing sardines. I could tell as the real contenders looked at me I was instantly dismissed as pack fodder based on my BMI indicating I would need to punch out a sustained 750 watts to stay on up the first climb. It did occur to me I was back in a colosseum where your fate was largely decided by body shape and as per my usual approach to specialist events – I had banked no specific or focused training for what was to cum on my face.
In line with acting like I’m PRO at things that hate me, I managed to roll out in the ‘Neutralised‘ start in the first few rows of the 136 riders taking the start. When you think of neutral, you usually think of Switzerland, judgemental, but impartial. Indeed we had been briefed that the opening section was neutralised behind the start car… Which is something they clearly forgot to tell the driver.
Try to picture the horror of the reality that was forming in my mind – Here we are, a handful of minutes into the race, heading up a road climb at a pace which is quickly becoming about as comfortable as having a herd of rabid squirrels with caffeine withdrawal shave your scrotum and all of a sudden, the lead car accelerates… As my mind ponders the implications of this, the real contenders already know that this is not a place that neutrality lives and as the seed of horror takes root in my head, its already too late – There’s a gap.
For once I can say that I wasn’t the cunt that dropped the wheel, but that seemed academic when all of a sudden the whole race exploded in the first few kilometres and I found myself suddenly in no mans land, as the small leading group drafted the now extremely partisan car off into the distance of the steepening first climb. To answer the question on the tip of your now overly wet tongue, yes, I said “cunt” out loud.
This is THE moment where you either charge across no man’s land and into glory, retreat to the trenches to likely get shot by your own officers or, as I found out, get halfway across before going down in a hail of gunfire. Not to lead you to the alarmingly inevitable outcome here, but of course I never quite made it, instead finding myself aimlessly trapped in no mans land reenacting what it looks like when you’ve suddenly realise those clouds are actually Sarin gas.
The idea in XC racing, not unlike road racing, is that you start the race with a box of matches. Throughout the race, you obviously only have a number of matches you can burn before you resemble a cunt… A cunt who is out of matches and therefore, has no fire. Even though I knew this concept, when trying to light my first match, I accidentally ended up setting fire to the entire box in one go – The pyromaniacs among you will squeal with delight at that thought, whereas I just squealed like a pig… A fat one.
So here I was, just me and another poor cunt, riding together in the isolation that is the space between the lead group, now invisible to us, and the chasers, who were starting to loom larger and faster than we wanted to accept. All the while, I had a Garmin reporting to me that we had heart rate numbers that A) we don’t usually see and B) were clearly about as sustainable as a Cryptocurrency based on porn stars.
I was now in the position of being a race car in the motherfucking red, with rev’s bouncing against the limiter, but with speed slowly going down, the leaders gone and the chasing pack inching closer with every weakening pedal stroke. In equivalent terms, this is like getting shanked in the bus on the way to Prison…
Part 2 – The descent into mediocrity commences
There are two surfaces that are an absolute cunt to ride a bike on, one is sand and the other is farm land. Farm animals have totally worked out that we are either going to milk them for smoothies/coffee’s that roadie’s don’t drink, or stick them between bread and eat them. Based on this inevitability, they have formed an alliance to take any terrain offered to them and render it utterly fucked for riding a bike on.
The parts they haven’t managed to shit on with extreme prejudice they have carved up with their hooves to make it feel closer to riding Paris Roubaix than an MTB trail. To be fair, they paid particular attention to the climbs, to ensure maximum cuntery for their efforts. Every single random hole milked me of more speed, the only thing accelerating was the descent into embarrassment.
It was around this time I was reminded of another rather obvious delta between the beloved ENDURO and this fuckfest I now found myself mired in. As I started to lose places hand over wanking fist in the most painfully drawn out manner, not unlike watching a Saw movie on slow mo, it dawned on me that unlike ENDURO, where you find out what flavour of fuckbag you are at the end of the day (and can quickly run off and hide in the carpark), XC racing is that good old fashion confrontation and illumination of all your cycling shortcomings, played in HD and with surround sound for the world to see in real time. A spot light finds it’s way to your face and only gets brighter and brighter with every placing that slips past you… Shhhhh, thrashing around and trying to resist only makes it worse…
When we hit around the 45 minute mark of wading through treacle filled with hate, it was time to dismount and carry. At this point you’d be forgiven for thinking that my recent Andes Pacifico escapades would come in handy, alas no… Muthafuckas were dismounting and running… Or rushing to say the least. I was agar…. So agar in fact I sort of just had to stand there and marvel at how much I was in the wrong fucking place. The only time you run at an ENDURO is to the beer tent FFS.
Oh but wait, there more… I hadn’t even considered this psychological blow, but it arrived around the same time when the first runners came up on us. Yes, I said RUNNERS… No, not people with bikes, but people who count a big day as when they get a new pair of Asics, #newshoeday. Yes, Triple Peaks also has a running category and the skinny whippets were now upon us, making jokes about carrying bikes. I was simply so overwhelmed, embarrassed and astounded that I just stopped and stared at them with a weird mixture of utter disdain, disgust and begrudged respect…. Whilst also juggling total disbelief at what I was witnessing.
Given this had now turned into an XC snuff movie, I decided to do the only thing left available for me to do – Reach into my back lycra pocket (FYI to the ENDUROBRO’s, yes, these skin tight jerseys have pockets), fumble around with my iFuck and take photo’s of the massacre so I could ultimately share my seething hate with you all here:
Blowing my tiny XC load in the first 45 mins of a 4 hour race wasn’t my only rookie error however – I had mixed my protein electrolyte drink so thickly it resembled a substance closer to Rhino semen than anything that would actually aid in quenching an insanely dry mouth. I was stoked to be choking on sickly sweet, but scientifically engineered, lolly water without understanding what it would do to me later, but hold that thought, as my decline into total madness was starting to gather pace, whilst I was physically doing the opposite.
Next up, someone on a 26 inch wheeled bike, with what appeared to be a tramping pack on their back, went past me as I looked on in tormented disbelief . The MTB On-line Media had assured me was a physical impossibility! Physics was being assaulted before my watering eyes. “Your bike is DEAD!” I screamed on the inside… Adding “And you haven’t had sex since 2012 according to the Maxxis website” for good measure. Whilst this was pre-Comm games, I am pretty sure this whole scenario deserves many middle fingers.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I arrived at the top of the first climb up Mount Erin 15 minutes behind the leader, who was on something they called a ‘Hardtail’, what ever the fuck that is, but it seemed to excite this genre of racers.
Part 3 – You don’t belong here
So I had worked out by now that I was totally fingered… In porn star actor terms this was like achieving climax as you knocked on the door to deliver the pizza. I couldn’t even get on people’s wheel as they rode past me, and they were riding past me as slow as fuck. It was like a ridiculous slow motion flogging… It was like trying to go lingerie shopping for your wife and walking around the shop with a stiffy hanging out, chances are it’s not going to get you a good result. But in my mind, we had crested the summit and now it was time for some ENDURO-bro downhill payback muthafuckas.
Much to my horror, I soon learned that I had basically zero downhill advantage… On account of a couple of cunty points, aside from my own arrogance. First of all, anyone can ride an MTB down a farm track, as it turns out, even people who don’t know what dropper posts are – Yes, as I found out, this species of human still exists and, much to my horror, still seems to derive some form of enjoyment out of riding a bike without one.
Secondly, if you’re too finger banged to look at the view, chances are you’re also too munted to drop the hammer downhill, which was very much the case in my book. Given unleashing DH radness was my final form of redemption, I began the process of internally crumbling faster than American’s can say “Oh, we didn’t realise that norms and behaviours actually underpinned our democracy, huh, who knew?”
My decision to go full lycra in the attire department was now also coming back to violently haunt me when I started to get passed by dudes in full baggies. My internal horror was now off the charts and I wanted to scream out to them “No cunts, I’m full ENDURO, save me!” Aside from being incorrectly attired, it was also very clear that I was indeed in the wrong neighbourhood. I’m not sure if it was all the walking/Hiking/cunty flog, or whether it was the general vibe of the whole set up, but much like in the DH race scenario, I can’t claim that I felt any massive pangs of belonging as the day wore on/out.
But when a Hightower LT came past me, that was enough. According to the Santa Cruz catalogue this shit was not allowed to happen, I was on, in theory, an XC bike for fucks sake, plus I was smeared in more lycra than a home-made 50 Shades of Grey movie. This moment was my Dunkirk, I had to dig in and resist… Until I remember Dunkirk was actually a fucking disaster, but given I was pushing uphill in the mud again, it seemed to fit in.
You see, the organisers were forced into a re-run up the other side of Brokeback Mountain on the basis of some biblical rain cutting off a river crossing we were supposed to use to hit the second of the triple peaks. This contingency route was… Well, if I’m being kind I’d call it an absolute fuckbag… To cut a long story short, it was some of the most munted farm track I can ever recall seeing, with more in common with the Somme than a Mountain Bike race. I didn’t see any person riding it and even the runners had pulled the pin on running, which indicated to me it was time to stop and take another hate inspired shot for this cathartic race report:
When I finally sort of got rad on a downhill, I blew over a crest and carving some fucked up line I naturally missed an arrow and took a wrong turn. Given the terrain, it took me several minutes to work this out… Those minutes can then be multiplied by me having to retrace my steps. As I did so, the Race organisers words rang in my ears on repeat “If you get lost out there, you need your bloody head read“, which is Havelockean speak for “You are a total cunt“, a fact I reminded myself of with every single pedal stroke until I rejoined the course.
While Sam Gaze was taking NZ XC Mountain biking to another level by winning a World Cup round, I was doing my best to send it back to the dark ages… Ed note – I drafted this reference before he went and took a giant dump on that rad capital at the Comm Games… Yes Goose, we know the Bird.
When I finally felt like I could charge around the 2.5 hour mark and started to get stuck into my work, I was ambushed by the next Bandito aspect I had forgotten all about, my old XC nemesis – Motherfucking Cramp! Of all the things I had been horrified at all day, this was perhaps the most glaring sign of failure. Its one thing to mentally implode, but when your muscles snapchat you to say everything is fucked, that’s quite confronting.
I was now officially a giant slab of cunt, a writhing and spasming one at that… But there was still a final peak remaining. If you feel like I am dragging this post out into a never ending nightmare gushing endless rivers of failure, then that’s excellent – As that’s precisely how it felt in real time. Embrace the suck.
Part 4 – Racing instinct & panic arrive together
As I cleared the final check point and shuddered at the final stanza of the race, I was encouraged to focus and push on by an unlikely motivational source: Someone tried to talk to me.
Ughhhh… Fuck, and it was one of those awkward small talk situations like being at your partners work BBQ set ups, where someone, usually named ‘The Todd’ approaches you with an opener like “So, how about all these cyclists giving the old naughty bird hey ho, what’s that about mister?“, as you fantasize about making Todd the lead in a cuckold & snuff film, you also deftly work on ensuring you get the fuck away from that shit ASAP, which is exactly what I did:
“Fuck this shit… Focus you fuckbag, get a rhythm going, get away from this Avanti riding chatterbox and at least try to recapture the final remaining vestiges of your manhood before they die completely… You’re even wearing a Rapha base layer for the love of Absalon, so get on top of this pathetic gear you’re spinning and end this”
I picked an odd time to throw up a final Hail Mary as well, right into the waiting mouth of a hideous beast of a farm road which was attempting to pass itself off as a MTB climb. But it was either small talk with an Avanti rider or hideous lactic annihilation, so ultimately the sort of decision that makes itself.
You know, the kind of gravel road climb which is compulsory first gear, grinding your genitals into the nose of the saddle and yanking on the bars whilst managing that delicate balancing act of keeping the rear tire hooked up because you’re running an Ikon and the front end down because you’re a dumb enough cunt to run a 140mm fork on a bike not designed for one. Or, in ENDURO-bro speak, absofuckinglutely the sort of climb you’d walk up with your mates calling each other cunts and laughing at people on 25mm internal rims.
If you’re finding this post whiney and painful, then you have something in common with my legs… The third of the triple peaks started with a rideable climb up the back of Te Mata Peak, rideable if you consider shadowing cramp with every pedal stroke to be riding, but given I was new to the area, I had no idea that the pedalling part of this final fiasco would soon give way to some more heavy duty portage. No, not pushing, it was vastly too narrow for that comfort – I’m talking top tube on the back of the neck vibes and a rather involved hike to the summit.
Whilst I had spent the last few hours not really feeling like I was racing, when I looked back down the zig zag track we were ascending, I could see a chasing pack closing in. My rough estimate was that I could easily surrender a good 10 places if I fully melted down and whilst I had no idea of where I was at, nor had any delusions of glory given the clear track in front of me, sliding down the order to such a degree seemed about as acceptable as promoting the concept of a threesome with the chief bridesmaid in your wedding speech.
So now agony and panic were competing head to head in the battle for my tiny deformed soul. As much as you want to get to the end of this post, I wanted to get to the end of this fucking hiking ordeal. The relief at seeing the summit checkpoint defines description… I was now on familiar territory and ready to pin it to home.
And then finally I got to see something I hadn’t seen all day… A mountain bike trail! Yes, terrain that had been gang banged by animals and that actually resembled a formed track, plus much to the amazement of everyone, we didn’t have to walk or push to utilise it! Unfortunately I went and ruined fucking everything by wearing lycra with a camelbak on… Hell-fucking-o 1997!
I will say this though, the Tallboy 3 rips into nicely groomed flow trail faster than a porn star can sign a loosely binding NDA. We haven’t spent much time together to be fair and there are mucho mucho difference from how I normally roll set up wise, but the angry bumblebee definitely likes to go unusually fast for a bike of this nature.
However, if you dip a ferret in artisanal chocolate, it doesn’t suddenly become delicious, does it? No amount of radness was going to remove the lactic fuckpig taste from my mouth, especially when I was about to snatch horrific suffering from the jaws of relief.
Given I don’t have the attention span to read all the race notes, I had expected an all downhill finish off the peak and back into the faux high brow pretentiousness of town for a cappuccino pretending to be a latte. But no, there was one more twist, or as it turned out, spasm, which awaited me. A dismount and run up a path, which sounds simple enough of course, but when you’ve been conducting ‘Enhanced Interrogation’ on your leg muscles for a few hours too many, simple becomes extraordinarily cunty.
It was either the walking or overwhelming taste of entitlement on my tongue, but I was suddenly enveloped in cramp. Not just ordinary cramp, I’m talking the sort that reduced me to screaming in public like I was being eaten/molested/eaten again alive by a bear, here we can see some actual footage of my legs muscles attacking me with tactical nuke destructive power:
I respect that the word ‘cunt’ is viewed more dimly than meth dealing in Havelock North, and not often yelled in the heart of suburbia, so my apologies to the marshall who had to endure me repeatedly screaming this over and over again in a massively banshee-like manner. But as those who have been destroyed by this affliction may appreciate, this carry on was mostly involuntary and dropping C-Bombs at max volume seemed essential at the time.
This cramp fuelled screaming public melt down was probably also mildly connected to the fact I knew a zombie horde of weekend warriors and Avanti mounted farmers were now bearing down on me as I stood trackside mounting multiple and unsuccessful attempts to stretch out my Hammy cramp, only to then trigger quad cramp… Basically the essential mechanics of being put on a Mandingo cramp spit-roast.
When I finally did get going again, the only thing that fuelled me was the odd combo of fear from the chasing horde, plus the knowledge that if I did happen to stop pedalling, all manners of sodomitic hell would start to rampage through my legs once more.
The relief of seeing the finish line was also an odd experience given the last few years of racing – Rather than the elation of “Thats the end of an epic brah experience” it was more along the lines of “Thank fuck that’s over and I don’t have to endure it any more”
If you’ve survived this far, unlike my hamstrings, you probably aren’t interested in the results, but let’s just say that 22nd overall and 7th in age group is actually flattering when you take into account the fact I was 53 minutes behind the winner, which I understand in XC terms means you may be confused as a course marshal.
I watched a video recently where a great man said a great line: “I didn’t know how little I had missed it until it happened again“, I think that perfectly sums up my XCM experiment… Stepping out of my ENDURO echo chamber I found a cold, hard and cruel world waiting to give my chilled out eCarcass an absolute pounding.
With this in mind, its a reminder that we have continued to play into the wet dreams of every MTB product manager on the planet. Our sport across the board continues to march towards specialisation more so every season. To feel comfortable in a race setting in any discipline you have to invest reasonable time mastering that trade and adapting to its demands – Unless you’re Jared Graves of course.
Some other rather obvious thoughts from my XCM flogging? Here’s a few which were probably obvious before the flag dropped:
- Any time you enter a race which also caters to runners and walkers, chances are it may be a cunt of a day
- Farms are for animals, if you’re forced to race on one the good news is all your future BBQ’s will be exceedingly guilt free
- If you weigh over 80kg’s, perhaps marathon XC isn’t your thing, no matter how skinny you try and dress
- Looking the part is great and all, until it becomes exceedingly obvious you’re an imposter – Keep it real YO
- I clearly had a terrible day because I wasn’t riding the new Santa Cruz Blur 3…
Given this race report is many months late means that there is now a bit of a back log to clear, you’ll be pleased to know its back to ENDURO town however, this experience was enough for now, but just wait until November where this caper will be magnified by a billion and then some. Refer to the horrified emoji at the start.